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JUDGMENT NIGHT by C.L. Moore
"Judgment Night"

Afterward, looking back, the interlude seemed like a hallucination, an unconvincing stage-set painted upon gauze, drawn briefly between Juille and the woods, while the thunderstorm rolled above them in the purple sky. But in the first moment after she had recognized that voice, realities stood out sharp and clear all around her, intensified because she could not speak or think coherently. Everything else was drowned in the overwhelming knowledge of who this man must be. And that he was no man at all. And what unimaginable shape he must really wear behind that illusion of humanity. And —

“Yes,” said the Envoy, smiling his thin smile across her at Egide. “You, too.”

Juille never knew how long they sat there in silence, while the cold wind whistled about them and in the strange yellow light of storm, the two armies locked in battle down below. She thought she would never speak again. She could not even turn her head to face Egide for comfort in this bleak and overwhelming moment.

The Envoy said, “Each of you came to us for help. And each of you was answered. But you and your people had gone too far already along the road all humans go. There was still one brief moment when you could have saved yourselves. But your instincts were wrong. That time is gone now.

“Every race has come to this end, since the first men conquered the Galaxy. Each of them sows the seed of its own destruction. Always a few see the way toward salvation, and always the many shout them down. But each race has its chance — ”

He looked down sternly over the struggling masses in the valley. Mists were beginning to drift between them now. The Envoy was a tall silhouette against the purple clouds of the storm. As he spoke again, the thunder rolled in his voice and in the darkening sky.

“Every nation digs its own grave,” he said. “And we are weary of mankind, forever thwarting his highest dreams and trapping himself in the end to a ruin like” — he nodded — “that down there.”

Silence for a long moment, while the noises of battle came up faintly, Jair’s great rich, carrying shout above all the rest, bellowed from his throat of brass. Juille sat very still on her horse, glad of the pressure of Egide’s warm knee, all thought and speech frozen in her as she saw the Envoy’s head turning her way. He looked thoughtfully into her face.

“You have set in motion already the forces that must destroy the Lyonese. You were the spokesman for your race, chosen fairly, typical of your kind. And of your own free choice you did it. Nothing can change that now.” Then the narrow skull turned farther, and he looked across her at Egide. His great eyes were the color of the spattering rain, as cool and translucent and inhuman. “You,” he went on, “gave your people a man of iron to worship, and nothing you can do now would swerve them from following it. It will lead them to destruction. How very strange — ” The Envoy paused a moment and looked at the two with a sort of puzzled wonder. “How very strange you humans are! How unerringly you unleash upon yourselves the instruments of your own destruction. How long ago the two of you here took the turnings that led you to this hilltop, and your people to their ruin down there. Perhaps the turnings were taken long before your births.” He smiled impersonally in the vivid yellowish light. “I know they were. Your first forefathers took them, and you had no choice but to follow, being of human flesh.” He sighed. “But the end comes just the same. It’s very near now.

“You wonder which will win down there.” He glanced toward the struggling armies, almost hidden in the mist. “Neither.

“Neither will win,” he told them. “Man has run his last course in our Galaxy. There were those before him who ran theirs, too, and failed to profit from it, and died. Now we weary of man. Oh, he may live out his failing days on the other worlds. We plan no pogrom against mankind.” His voice quivered for an instant with aloof amusement. “Man himself attends to that. But here on Ericon, our own peculiar world, we are weary of man and we want no more of him.”

Exerpt from "Judgment Night" © 1952 by C.L. Moore Kuttner, renewed 1980 by C.L. Moore Reggie.